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The Collaborative Buzz of Bees

November 18, 2011
at 4:58 pm PST

Rooftop hives at CiscoSometimes we forget that collaboration isn’t just something people do at work. In fact, it’s not unique to people at all. And some of the best collaborators out there in the world just ain’t people.

Bees, for instance. They don’t have fancy hardware, software, networks, and mobile devices, yet they’re amazing collaborators. I take that back, they do have networks – just not the kind with Cisco routers and switches behind them.

People are studying bees to figure out how you and I can improve our collaboration. By its own definition, The Biomimicry Institute “promotes learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs.” A pretty neat idea if you ask me.

They have all sorts of studies, but among them is one that looks at the behavior patterns within groups of bees when they’re making decisions – like buying a house and grocery shopping. I mean, deciding where to put a new hive and forage for pollen.

They’re also looking at how ants and bees respond when threatened. If you’ve ever come across an ant nest in the garden, you’ve seen how quickly an entire colony will pick up and evacuate to a new location. It’s not chaos at all, it’s very intelligently organized. The individual ants have roles and share a common purpose and plan. If Godzilla steps on my street, I assure you there will be nothing intelligently organized about it.

Bees are also very effective at collaborative instruction techniques. Case in point: The last time I accidentally meandered through an underground hive, they taught me just how quickly I can run down a hill while removing my hiking boots and socks to dive head-long into the safety of a pond.

Bees and ants often get a bad rap for some inherent pesky tendencies, but they’re pretty inspirational when it comes down to it. They play a critical role in our overall collaboration as inhabitants of this planet. Bees pollinate more than 70 of the top crops that provide 90% of the world’s food, according to the United Nations. There’s nothing trivial about that number nor the potential impact of the recent decline in bee populations.

Cisco employees have a corporate culture that not only focuses on the things that get the work done, but also emphasizes environmental and social responsibility. When some groups in Europe learned about the risks facing bees and resulting impact on world food supplies they decided to collaborate for the collaborators.

Employees decided to learn about beekeeping, buy equipment, and start cultivating bee colonies. It turns out that rooftops tend to be pretty ideal locations in urban environments. The Cisco Connected Bees initiative not only built the colonies and harvested the honey, but brought technology into the equation with sensors, video surveillance, and other tools.

Bee Pride: First Harvest, 2010

The employee teams in Paris, Reading (UK), and Amsterdam share best practices to create the best environment for the bees, but they don’t stop there. They share their data with scientists studying urban beehives. (For more detail click over to “Cisco Employees Buzzing Over Volunteer Project’s Environmental Impact.”)

The more you consider how the world around you works, the more opportunities you have to identify different ways to collaborate. Step outside and watch the bees, or kids playing soccer, or any number of things that don’t relate at all to PowerPoint presentations, e-mail missives, or management objectives. Then bring those observations back into the workplace. Take advantage of collaboration tools to put those observations to work.

It’s not the technology that provides the answers – it’s the technology that enables people-centric collaboration. To help you and I work together more effectively. The tools today are designed to create a more natural interaction between people, helping people hear and see one another, meet, share ideas and content, and improve their working relationships and productivity.

Keep up with the buzz on Connected Bees on Facebook. (Sorry, I couldn’t make it through the entire post without a bee pun.)

Any bee-like observations you’d like to share? Bring ‘em on in the comments.

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2 Comments.


  1. This is great news. I have wanted to outfit a hive with tech to monitor various aspects of the colony for a while now. I am very interested to learn much more about this project and I am happy to see Cisco supporting this effort. I would like to see more details on the types of monitors installed, and the data collected. What was learned? Anything to share?

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  2. Kim Austin

    Thanks for your interest. To connect directly with the Cisco Connected Bees project team, check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cisco-Connected-Bees/110921295656878

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